Written answers

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Department of Justice and Equality

Prison Visiting Committees Issues

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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134. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which the present visiting committee structure in the prison service is due for reform or is being reformed; the extent to which enhanced rehabilitation and training within the prison service is likely to become available in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17169/14]

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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There are fourteen Visiting Committees in existence – one for each institution. Each Visiting Committee now comprises no more than six members, and only suitable people with a genuine interest in prison issues are appointed.

As previously stated, the current legislation relating to Visiting Committees dates from 1925 and as part of my plans to streamline the current inspections regime, I intend replacing this old law with a number of new provisions to be included in the proposed Inspections of Places of Detention Bill. These provisions will make Visiting Committees more effective, while they continue their role of visiting prisons, meeting with prisoners and liaising on their behalf with prison authorities. A link will be established between the Visiting Committees and the Inspector of Prisons. Under the proposed new arrangements, it is my intention that Visiting Committees will report regularly to the Inspector and will be able to report any urgent or major matter to the Inspector at any time. I believe this will make them more effective and improve the independent oversight of our prisons. Subject to competing legislative priorities, I expect that work on the General Scheme will be completed later this year.

In terms of enhanced rehabilitation and training in prisons, the Prison Service provides a wide range of rehabilitative programmes which include education, vocational training, healthcare, psychiatric, psychological, counselling, welfare and spiritual services. All prisoners are eligible to use these programmes which are available in all prisons. On committal, all prisoners are interviewed by the Governor and informed of the services available in the prison. At this point prisoners may be referred to services or they can self refer at a later date. Where a Governor considers, on the information available, that a prisoner needs a particular intervention he/she will initiate a referral.

The number of accredited vocational courses and opportunities available in Work Training has also been expanded in recent years. Enhanced partnership arrangements with accrediting bodies and the centralising of coordination and quality assurance arrangements have enabled the Prison Service to extend the number of available courses and activities with certification. An Integrated Sentence Management (ISM) system has been introduced which involves a new orientation in the delivery of services and an emphasis on prisoners taking greater personal responsibility for their own development through active engagement with both specialist and non-specialist services in the prisons. The end result is a prisoner centred multidisciplinary approach to working with prisoners with provision for initial assessment, goal setting and periodic review to measure progress.

The development of prisoner programmes forms a central part of the Prison Service Three Year Strategic Plan 2012 - 2015. There is a clear commitment in the Strategy to enhance sentence planning including ISM and the delivery of prison based rehabilitative programmes such as education, work training and resettlement programmes.

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